I am returning from the last – thanks be to God – of the travels for bishops’ meetings and seminars, at least before Easter. There is nothing better than to come home and sleep in my own bed!
Something very interesting happened on this last trip, though, and I’d like to share my joy about it with you. As I was waiting at Reagan Airport in Washington, for the plane to Chicago, a man came up to me and offered me his seat in first class. I was really surprised and very happy for his offer, but I had already received an upgrade from the airline. Nevertheless, we struck up a conversation. He didn’t know I was a bishop, he thought I was a priest. I told him his generosity was appreciated no matter what.
He was a convert of about six years to Catholicism and he was still pretty happy and excited about it. He told me the story of the priest who had helped in his catechesis and what a strong and positive example of the faith he was for him in a very difficult and strange time in his life. The priest seemed to offer Catholicism in such a positive and loving way – as the true and personal message of Jesus – that the man felt joy, forgiveness, and acceptance in some whole new ways for himself and for others.
I was impressed by his unabashed joy. Sometimes that can be a little embarrassing. But there was a sense of serenity and peace that made me a lot more joyful myself – and very happy and proud to be in the same fraternity as that priest who had made such a profound and lasting impression on this man.
One of the things that I said to the pope during our personal meeting in Rome was: “Thank you for the ‘Year for Priests.’” I thanked the pope for initiating that year of celebration and recognition for priests around the world. I think it accomplished a great deal to raise the consciousness of all Catholics who need to know what a sacrifice it is for a man to accept God’s calling to be a priest and how significant their lives are in service to men and women in the name and person of Jesus Christ.
I know that I brag about our priests a lot, wherever and when I can; but I was really happy to hear some “good news” from another sector of the Faithful who not only told me a great story of his respect and love for his priest/mentor, but also was willing to put his gratitude in action.
You know, it is never too late to tell your priest that he is doing a good job or that you appreciate their work and ministry. I know none of us is perfect and that not every priest is as “inspiring” as we might like; but it is important to remember that God chooses from among simple men His great works to manifest.
Please keep them in your prayers, especially in these days when the challenges are becoming so much more blatant against the truths of our faith. We need those good priests to be solid in their faith and strong examples for us to manifest that faith to others. You might not want to give up your seat in first class, but you never know how you might show Christ to others because of the work of a good priest in your life!
…I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!